Poltergeist

May 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris
Directed by: Gil Kenan (“Monster House”)
Written by:  David Lindsay-Abaire (“Oz the Great and Powerful”)

The original “Poltergeist” film from 1982 boasts none other than Steven Spielberg as its co-writer, and the king of 1980s suburbia on film has his fingerprints all over the classic horror movie.  Spielberg’s influence is so heavy that rumors persist that he was the real director of the film, taking charge when credited director Tobe Hooper was indecisive or slow to react. With height-of-his-powers Spielberg behind the camera, the influence of the film reverberated through the horror genre for years, so much so that the remake hitting theaters in 2015 feels less like a retread of the first “Poltergeist” and more like a cheap copy of the dozens of films that followed it, borrowing and re-arranging the formula along the way.

After financial hardships necessitate move to a smaller house, the Bowen family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie Dewitt) start to notice strange things happening in their new home. Strange noises come from the walls, comic books stack themselves in intricate house of cards formations, and a box of creepy clowns falls from the rafters. Soon, youngest daughter Maddy (Kenndi Clements) begins talking to some unseen voices in the TV, and is later sucked through a portal that appears in her closet. In an effort to get their daughter back, the Bowens enlist the help of a university paranormal research team and a TV ghost hunter (Jared Harris) to rid the house of the evil spirts.

Dull and uneventful, this remake seems to be going through the motions more than anything else. Plot details are changed from the original film for no reason other than to be different, and the setting is changed to the present day, a difference that renders the strange alien static of old analog TVs moot. Director Gil Kenan and producer Sam Raimi were chosen by the studio to create a “revisionist” take on the story, but all they’ve managed to do is further cement the original movie as a horror classic.

City of Ember

October 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan
Directed by: Gil Kenan (“Monster House”)
Written by: Caroline Thompson (“Corpse Bride”)

You could watch “City of Ember” and think of it as a metaphor for our current economic crisis or you could simply watch it as a human version of “Fraggle Rock.” Either way, there are some great ideas and mythology somewhere inside the story, which stay buried as deep as the city where the film is set.

After the world ends, the underground City of Ember is where the remaining population moves so that mankind can continue to live. Those who have created the city, known as “the builders,” have set a clock inside a small metal box along with the secrets of the outside world, so that after 200 years underground, the citizens would know what to do when their time below the surface of the earth was up.

But as the box changes hands over the years from mayor to mayor, it is somehow misplaced. With city continuing to get older and more fragile and their generator (the only source of electricity) on its last leg, the citizens of Ember come together to try to figure out a way to save their home before the frightening daily blackouts become permanent.

Little do the people of Ember know that a little girl named Lena Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan), a descendant of a past mayor, has found the box tucked away in her senile granny’s house. Although Lena is not quite sure of the box’s history, she would like to tell someone about her discovery, but is worried that the city’s current corrupt leader, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), could have different plans.

It’s not Murray’s finest hour as he and other talented Academy-Award winning actors like Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”) are sorely underused. Sure, they’re only secondary characters but screenwriter Caroline Thompson doesn’t give them anything worthwhile to do. Instead, the story focuses on Lena and her friend Doon (Harry Treadaway) as they search for a way out of the city by following a map they find in the box and piece together.

While the first half of “Ember” offers some neat concepts, director Gil Kenan only skims the surface. I’m not too sure how Jeanne Duprau’s book is different, but in the film version there’s not enough magical moments inside the city and all that is left is a plodding trip to the outside world. Why leave so quickly when the most interesting things are underground? By the third act, “The City of Ember,” somehow becomes another “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with these characters moving in the opposite direction. It might be good enough for water park ride enthusiasts, but not for someone who wants a little more spirited adventure.